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What? Web Is Unreliable About Vertebroplasty?

January 30, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Interventional Radiology, Musculoskeletal Radiology
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You’re going to want to sit down before you read this: A new study finds that the Internet is not a reliable source for medical information—particularly information about interventional radiology!

Can you believe it?!

Of course you can. And now we have peer-reviewed proof to support our skepticism. T. Barrett Sullivan, a medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, led a study that examined websites containing information about vertebroplasty, the image-guided procedure in which cement is injected into vertebrae to relieve pain caused by osteoporosis-related compression fractures.

Here’s his conclusion:

The information available on the Internet clearly is not an acceptable substitute for the physician-patient relationship, with a majority of sites presenting information that we believe is of unacceptable quality for patient education.

Startling, isn’t it? Sullivan was quoted in a news release from Springer Science+Business Media. Springer publishes Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. An article about the research appears in the December 2013 issue.

The investigators looked at 105 websites. Sullivan and his colleagues rated only 7 percent as “excellent” based on the quality and accuracy of their information about vertebroplasty. Another 6 percent got the next-highest rating, “high quality.” Eleven percent were deemed of “moderate quality” and 19 percent of “poor quality.”

And a stunning—or maybe not so stunning—57 percent got the lowest rating, “unacceptable.”

Sullivan and his colleagues found that all 105 sites highlighted the benefits of vertebroplasty, but only 53 percent described any risks. Seventy-five percent listed appropriate indications, but just 45 percent also discussed contraindications. Only 51 percent of the sites mentioned alternative treatments, and a mere 27 percent cited peer-reviewed literature as sources of their information.

“Appropriate discussion of a patient’s understanding of a procedure is critical,” Sullivan said, “and physicians should make efforts to inquire about Internet research, taking time to counsel patients regarding the limitations of Internet information.”

Good luck with that. Sigh.

Related CME seminar (up to 25.25 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Interventional Radiology Review

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